After writing his extremely important book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, one of our greatest reporters, Chris Hedges, had a debate about religion with Sam Harris. What he learned from his preparation, the debate and further study was that the new atheism that such as Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others were creating had the potential of being another fascistic danger to egalitarian democracy and, so freedom. He wrote the book I Don't Believe in Atheists as a study of the fascistic potential of atheism. I read the book when it first came out and found it to be a good introduction to the topic. At the time I had a few minor questions about some of his basic assumptions about atheism and why it could turn into a danger to democracy. In the years after that, as people who have read my blog or looked into its archive know, I've made an intensive study of the literature of atheism, both its philosophical and its less philosophical and more popular forms and I think Hedges greatly underestimated the potential of atheism to destroy democracy. In its most common form in the English speaking people, atheism is almost always found in association with a crude 18th-19th century style of materialism and, even more so, the crudest and most superstitious form of scientism. Even some of the most intellectual of atheists, even those in the sciences that should have cured them of those superstitions are fully believing, fully invested in those twin superstitions. At the very start of his book, Hedges give a quotation by Ludwig Feuerbach, "What yesterday was still religion, is no longer such today; and what today is atheism, tomorrow will be religion". And such is atheism in everyone I've ever talked to and in all but the most subtle of atheists I've read. One of the deepest dangers of atheism as it really exists in the minds of atheists is the denial that what they believe is belief and the arrogant and clueless claim that it is knowledge. With that comes a really dangerous belief that atheism is some kind of guarantee of protection against what such atheists as Harris and Dawkins and, climbing on the profitable band wagon, Christopher Hitchens claim is guaranteed to come from religion.
Anyway, back to Hedges. In the book Hedges early says,
We have nothing to fear from those who do or do not believe in God; we have much to fear from those who do not believe in sin. The concept of sin is a stark acknowledgement that we can never be omnipotent, that we are bound and limited by human flaws and self-interest. The concept of sin is a check on the utopian dreams of a perfect world. It prevents us from believing in our own perfectibility or the illusion that the material advances of science and technology equal an intrinsic moral improvement in our species. To turn away from God is harmless. Saints have been trying to do it for centuries. To turn away from sin is catastrophic.
Only, I don't believe that is supported by the phenomenon of atheism in the world and in literature. I do believe we have much to fear from those who don't believe in God. I don't believe that the habits of contentment as found among university based atheists who will scribble mildly on such topics are where the real test of the ultimate consequences of atheism are to be found. Fifteen years ago, when I took so much of what they said on the faith that they were being honest and sincere without checking their sources or the actual record of atheist governments, I might have let that pass without comment, but I think that statement is quite wrong. Atheism with political power has a political record and it is uniformly that of a mass-murdering, fascistic nightmare.
It is impermissible under any circumstances for morals to sink as low as communism has done. No one can begin to imagine the tragedy of humanity, of morality, of religion and of freedoms in the land of communism, where man has been debased beyond belief. André Gide
For the record, I don't count Gide as having had an especially high bar when it comes to morality. Atheist government couldn't even get over his.
And that is atheism under a far less amoral framing than it has been given. Marxism aspired to scientifically and logically produce a decent, peaceful life after the program of violent struggle was over. I think it might have been the most idealistic of the commonly adopted framings of atheism. One of those popular alternatives was Nietzsche's horrific oppression of people classified as inferior by enslaving Supermen who were not bound by any morality. I think the record of Marxism with political power shows that the intentions of producing moral governance Marx and Marxists have articulated, the record in actual practice is closer to Nietzsche. And I, actually, think Nietzsche is only one of those atheist-materialist systems which would produce similar results, Darwin and even more so, his disciples certainly imagined such a world ruled by an artificial natural selection to replace the theoretical and continual culling by nature.
After years and years of studying atheism, the idealized view in the literature and the actual record, the actual test in reality, I think that result is virtually inevitable and I think it is an inevitable consequence of materialism and especially any scientism that includes natural selection as a feature of its faith. Though even without natural selection, I don't see anywhere in atheism for a concept of sin to come from other than all too easily violated habit or all too easily overcome social pressure. Atheists are, certainly, no more reliable in treating other people, animals, the environment well, non-explotatively, kindly, than Christians.
There is one thing that is a crucial difference between atheism and many forms of religion, in this discussion, Christianity. Christianity contains the concept of sin, it contains the concept that sins have inevitable and inescapable consequences and it contains the very moral laws that would have to be followed to produce an egalitarian democracy, a decent peaceful and non-murderous life. Foremost among sins, practically its definition in the Hebrew tradition, is doing to other people what you would not have them do to you is a sin. Atheism has none of those possible restraints. In a world in which those who, claiming to be Christians, followers of Jesus but who, none the less, give in to the temptations to violate those, certainly relying on atheists who admit to no such moral absolutes is a far higher risk of that result.
I will say that I think in Donald Trump atheists have gotten their desideratum of an atheist president of the United States.* As has been pointed out, despite his claims of being a Christian, the entire previous life of Donald Trump up till the time he decided to run for president contained nothing at all that would lead someone to conclude that he believed in God or in the Gospel of Jesus or the Law or the Prophets. His life and his profession of faith has been that of the crudest and most vulgar of vulgar materialists. His business practice is a record of piratical theft, strong-man attempts to roll over and destroy people he considered weaker, lying to and robbing the gullible, especially those whose fantasies of being like Donald Trump made them weak. His legacy as a builder is of golden idols, abstract monuments to himself and his massive and all-consuming ego. His rapacious use of women is, obviously, one of the things that made him popular with the crudest of men and women brainwashed into being used by men. His court is full of some of the most degenerate of crooks and thieves there are. His gospel is a schedule of lies, racism, hatred, bigotry, paranoid violence and the exploitation of women. In short, in Donald Trump we have come as close to the reality of a Nietzschian strong man in our history as we yet have - minus the Nietzschian pretenses of philosophical erudition. One of the consequences of believing in no moral restraint is that there is no reason not to lie, even about such things as religious belief. An atheist who claims, falsely, for political gain to believe in Christianity is entirely to be expected. It's merely a matter of an absence of distaste for telling that particular lie. In a world where there are no values, intellectual values are no less in danger than moral ones. In the very end, even the most basic of intellectual values is based in an absolute belief in the reality of religious values and minus a God who makes those values real, I have no faith in the ability of human society to sustain the practice of them. I think every Nietzschian strong man, every atheist despot unrestrained by morality and in a society that has been led to abandon any sense of sin, will have far more in common with the morality of the rape scene in Last Exit to Brooklyn or in other such landmarks of 20th century literature than it will what you'll find in academic atheist fantasy.
I will also say that in Trump's puppet-master, Putin we're seeing post-Marxist atheism, atheism shed of the delicacy of feeling that led to the rejection of religion for a corrupting pretense of religion such as even Stalin used to further his rule when Hitler threatened it. I don't buy that murderous pirate's embrace of the Patriarch of Moscow and his church building program as an expression of Christianity, it is religion of convenience. He's guilty of many murders, do you think he'd be too ethical to be insincere? I wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't learned that trick of power consolidation and security from American Republicans.
Given the record of atheists with political power, the Reign of Terror, if you believe what atheists claim the Napoleonic reign of terror (look up his body count), the Marxist regimes and, yes, the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini, there is no reason, whatsoever to believe that "We have nothing to fear from those who don't believe in God". I think there is every reason to believe that materialism, scientism, and atheism will produce horrific results. I think we're getting those, now.
Note: I think that with the world as it is, it is way past time for the people who really do believe that what Jesus said was true to call out those who profess that belief but whose every word and deed violates every word Jesus said. The delicacy of feeling, the desire to not make waves, to be nicely liberalish and tolerant of those whose "christianity" could vote for Trump and his program of total depravity is something that has to be overcome if they really believe what they profess. Franklin Graham is not a Christian, Jerry Falwell jr. is not a Christian, they are simply working a different angle on the racket that Trump and Putin have been so much more successful in.
* In reading this over, I think Donald Trump has a lot in common with a number of popular atheists of the past, Madalyn Murray O'Hair ruled over her petty little fiefdom in much the same way that Trump is trying to rule us.